Connect with us


Micro Analysis: Ilya Kovalchuk is better than advertised – Habs Eyes on the Prize



It was another embarrassing loss to the lowly Red Wings last night, and the playoffs are rapidly becoming a foolish dream. This will probably be another lost season for the Montreal Canadiens. “Easy” points escape them. The urgency of the situation seems to not have impressed itself on the team — or they are simply incapable of pulling the weight of injuries. One way or another, the time to dissect all of this will come later.

For now, there are still positives to concentrate on. The main one over the past two days has been the play of Ilya Kovalchuk.

There is something to be said about having no expectations. That usually makes for the best surprises. It’s only been two games, and there’s plenty of time for Kovalchuk’s performance to crash — he has not played much hockey in the past couple of months and keeping a high level of intensity can prove hard once the adrenaline of the first few games runs out — but still, the player that showed up in Montreal is not the disengaged and slow forward I thought he would be. Far from it. In half the shifts he has taken in bleu, blanc, et rouge, Kovalchuk has been one of, if not the best player on the ice.

Calling him a defensive stalwart would be a stretch. He still has some moments where he double-covers opponents, going for the puck and leaving someone behind. But he tries. Those mistakes could fix themselves with continued high engagement and more time inside Montreal’s system.

Right now, more often than not, Kovalchuk positively contributes to defence. Here are a few examples.

[embedded content]

The Russian forward plays defence aggressively. He prefers the winger defensive roles, and will switch with his centreman to move up the zone the first chance he can. But he doesn’t seem to cheat offensively at all. On the contrary, he collapses harder on opponents lower in the zone than most other skaters in his position.

In the first couple of games, he has been adding an extra layer of protection to the slot, cutting opposing passes heading there. It leaves space behind him, but he has shown himself aware of player movement to stop the odd back-door attempt.

He has also not been one to gun out of the zone, even if that is sometimes dictated by the Habs’ breakouts. He supports teammates. He remains low and finds outlets under pressure quite effectively, looking across the ice to hit linemates inside space after attracting opponents to himself.

Again, that might be his need to make a good first impression; nobody reveals flaws on a first date. But at least he shows himself capable of thinking defence first.

Another pleasant surprise is how hard he has been playing. He goes out of his way to throw hits, adding to the impression that he’s giving it his all. Big body slams are just a bonus. The real value is in how hard the winger has been skating.

It’s very noticeable on the forecheck. Kovalchuk doesn’t stop. He strides almost all the way into opponents and looks to free the puck from their grasp any way he can. If possession moves, he tracks it back at full momentum. He’s not all that quick, but a high motor and effort can compensate for a lot of flaws, including the limitations of a 36-year-old body.

[embedded content]

The last sequence in the video led to the first goal for Ben Chiarot on Monday. Kovalchuk successively battled against two opponents on the boards to free the puck, and then followed it up by beating his check in a race to the front of the net to serve as a screen for the release of his defenceman.

It’s a sequence many coaches could use to showcase the immediate benefits of a strong work ethic. And it features a forward who was healthy scratched for long stretches in his return to the NHL.

Experience complements effort there. At 6’3” and 223 pounds, Kovalchuk is imposing, and has the skill to know how to use his size to his advantage. It’s a deadly combination.

Take a look at some of the sequences below.

[embedded content]

As he skates in the slot to make a play on a pass or a shot coming to the net, he neutralizes defenders with his rear end. He turns to place it between his check and the puck, avoiding stick lifts. In the second clip, as he attempts a deflection, he backs his posterior toward a defender, forcing that defender to back off and brace for a reverse hit, which in turn makes the defender unable to neutralize Kovalchuk’s stick.

A player like Brendan Gallagher uses some of the same techniques to create scoring chances, but even with the added weight of his giant heart, the forward doesn’t match the size advantage of Kovalchuk. This is not saying that the Russian forward is more effective. Gallagher should absolutely reprise his role on the top line when he comes back; he’s a third of one of the best lines in hockey. Yet Kovalchuk still brings a different skill and physical mix to the Montreal squad, one they sorely miss, especially with Joel Armia out. He can finish in tight and set up others just as well.

[embedded content]

Right now, if Kovalchuk can maintain his high level of play, especially on the defensive side, he will continue being a great complement to just about any line configuration. He can play both wings and worked especially well with Nick Suzuki and Max Domi on certain shifts last night. The Red Wings are not the best defensive team, and in turn, not the best measure of the success of a trio, but the cumulative talent of those three forwards could likely hurt even better defending teams if they can keep the puck on the offensive side.

All in all, a Kovalchyuk resurgence could give the Habs options. He brings a much-needed offensive touch on the ice and could help them avoid a complete crash of their season, though that might feel inevitable right now. If it comes to it, he also becomes another asset at the trade deadline, or even a piece they could potentially re-sign to another inexpensive deal.

Who knows? We are just two games into Ilya Kovalchuk Habs tenure. But it’s at least something to get excited about.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)


Source link

Continue Reading


LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena



LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

Continue Reading


UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap



In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

Continue Reading


Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates



Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

Continue Reading